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Oh my God, what are we seeing? Michael leaves trail of destruction in Florida, now roars across U.S. southeast

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — The most powerful hurricane on record to

hit Florida’s Panhandle left wide destruction and at least
two people dead and wasn’t nearly finished Thursday as it
crossed Georgia, now as a tropical storm, toward the Carolinas,
that are still reeling from epic flooding by Hurricane
Florence.

A day after the supercharged storm crashed ashore amid white
sand beaches, fishing towns and military bases, Michael was no
longer a Category 4 monster packing 250 km/h winds. As the
tropical storm continued to weaken it was still menacing the
southeast with heavy rains, blustery winds and possible spinoff
tornadoes.

Authorities said at least two people have died, a man killed by
a tree falling on a Panhandle home and according to WMAZ-TV, an
11-year-old girl was also killed by a tree falling on a home in
southwest Georgia. Search and rescue crews were expected to
escalate efforts to reach hardest-hit areas and check for
anyone trapped or injured in the storm debris.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said early Thursday that
the eye of Michael was about 144 kilometres northeast of Macon,
Georgia and about 72 kilometres west of Augusta. The storm’s
maximum sustained winds have decreased to 80 km/h and it was
moving to the northeast at 33 km/h. The core of Michael will
move across eastern Georgia into Central South Carolina on
Thursday morning.

Rick
Teska (L) helps a business owner rescue his dogs from the damaged
business after hurricane Michael passed through the area on
October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty
Images

After daylight Thursday residents of north Florida would just
be beginning to take stock of the enormity of the disaster.

Damage in Panama City near where Michael came ashore Wednesday
afternoon was so extensive that broken and uprooted trees and
downed power lines lay nearly everywhere. Roofs were peeled
away, sent airborne, and homes were split open by fallen trees.
Twisted street signs lay on the ground. Palm trees whipped
wildly in the winds. More than 380,000 homes and businesses
were without power at the height of the storm.

Vance Beu, 29, was staying with his mother at her home, Spring
Gate Apartments, a complex of single-story wood frame buildings
where they piled up mattresses around themselves for
protection. A pine tree punched a hole in their roof and his
ears even popped when the barometric pressure went lower. The
roar of the winds, he said, sounded like a jet engine.

“It was terrifying, honestly. There was a lot of noise. We
thought the windows were going to break at any time,” Beu said.

Sally Crown rode out Michael on the Florida Panhandle thinking
at first that the worst damage was the many trees downed in her
yard. But after the storm passed, she emerged to check on the
cafe she manages and discovered a scene of breathtaking
destruction.

A
resident of St. Marks, Fla., rescues a cooler out of the
floodwaters near his home Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

Chris
O’Meara/AP Photo

“It’s absolutely horrendous. Catastrophic,” Crown said.
“There’s flooding. Boats on the highway. A house on the
highway. Houses that have been there forever are just
shattered.”

A Panhandle man was killed by a tree that toppled on a home,
Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower
said. But she added emergency crews trying to reach the home
were hampered by downed trees and debris blocking roadways. The
debris was a problem in many coastal communities and still
hundreds of thousands of people were also left without power.

Gov. Rick Scott announced afterward that thousands of law
enforcement officers, utility crews and search and rescue teams
would now go into recovery mode. He said “aggressive” search
and rescue efforts would get underway.

“Hurricane Michael cannot break Florida,” Scott vowed.

Michael sprang quickly from a weekend tropical depression,
going from a Category 2 on Tuesday to a Category 4 by the time
it came ashore. It forced more than 375,000 people up and down
the Gulf Coast to evacuate as it gained strength quickly while
crossing the eastern Gulf of Mexico toward north Florida. It
moved so fast that people didn’t’ have much time to prepare,
and emergency authorities lamented that many ignored the
warnings and seemed to think they could ride it out.

A
resident walks under a fallen palm tree after Hurricane Michael
hit in Panama City, Florida, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 10,
2018.
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

In Panama City, plywood and metal flew off the front of a
Holiday Inn Express. Part of the awning fell and shattered the
glass front door of the hotel, and the rest of the awning wound
up on vehicles parked below it.

“Oh my God, what are we seeing?” said evacuee Rachel Franklin,
her mouth hanging open.

Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the
third most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland, behind
the unnamed Labor Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969. Based
on wind speed, it was the fourth-strongest, behind the Labour
Day storm (296 km/h), Camille and Andrew in 1992.

It also brought the dangers of a life-threatening storm surge.

In Mexico Beach, population 1,000, the storm shattered homes,
leaving floating piles of lumber. The lead-grey water was so
high that roofs were about all that could be seen of many
homes.

Hours earlier, meteorologists watched satellite imagery in
complete awe as the storm intensified.

A
view of storm damage during Hurricane Michael October 10, 2018 in
Panama City, Florida.
BRENDAN
SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

“We are in new territory,” National Hurricane Center
Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook. “The historical
record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever
hitting the Florida panhandle.”

The storm is likely to fire up the debate over global warming.
Scientists say global warming is responsible for more intense
and more frequent extreme weather, such as storms, droughts,
floods and fires. But without extensive study, they cannot
directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.

After Michael left the Panhandle late Wednesday, Kaylee O’Brien
was crying as she sorted through the remains of the apartment
she shared with three roommates at Whispering Pines apartments,
where the smell of broken pine trees was thick in the air. Four
pine trees had crashed through the roof of her apartment,
nearly hitting two people.

Her biggest worry: finding her missing one-year-old Siamese
cat, Molly.

“We haven’t seen her since the tree hit the den. She’s my
baby,” a distraught O’Brien said, her face wet with tears.

— Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg,
Florida; Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Freida Frisaro
in Miami; Brendan Farrington in St. Marks, Florida; Russ Bynum
in Keaton Beach, Florida; Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North
Carolina; and Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland,
contributed to this story

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